Open 9 am - 6 pm

New Research Reveals Age and Origin of Oldest Aquarium Fish, Granddad, at Shedd Aquarium

Biological Samples Confirm the Australian Lungfish is a Centenarian Species

June 21, 2022

Australian lungfish fondly referred to as Granddad.

New research published today in Frontiers in Environmental Science: Freshwater Science confirmed that Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri), suspected of being long lived and which received the moniker “living fossil,” is a centenarian species. This revelation came after scientists at Seqwater, CSIRO Australia’s national science agency, and Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water received DNA samples from Granddad at Shedd Aquarium – the presumed longest-living lungfish known in human care – and utilized an epigenetic ageing clock developed specifically for the species. The research indicates the age of Granddad at his death to be 109 years and his origin to be the Burnett River, Queensland, Australia, the location of the species’ original discovery in 1870.

Granddad was gifted to the Chicago aquarium from Australia in 1933 and lived for 84 years until death in 2017. Aside from the millions of guests who connected with Granddad each year at the aquarium, Granddad’s passing was met with local and national media attention because of his suspected age.

“Granddad was a remarkable animal who sparked curiosity about his species among millions of Shedd Aquarium guests,” said Peggy Sloan, chief animal operations officer at Shedd Aquarium. “We had the pleasure of caring for Granddad and introducing him to people for decades. We are honored to continue adding to Granddad’s legacy by advancing our scientific knowledge of this endangered animal and building greater understanding and public awareness for the iconic, unique species.”

Scientists applied molecular-based techniques to facilitate the research using a sample of preserved fin tissue from Granddad. Before this latest result, the oldest confirmed age of a wild lungfish was 77 years. These findings provide a revised maximum age to aid in the conservation management of this species. Overall, the Australian lungfish is now deemed the longest living freshwater sub-tropical fish species in the world.

While the maximum age, longevity, lifespan or life expectancy of wildlife is often unknown or difficult to estimate, it is critical to modern conservation planning and management approaches such as population viability modelling. Australian lungfish are an ancient species that are impacted by many threats caused by human activity, which have led to contemporary population declines and increased extinction risk. The species is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as endangered.

“This research exemplifies one of the important contributions that public aquariums and zoos like Shedd can make to both scientific research and conservation efforts, while raising public awareness by revealing new biological insights into the species,” said Dr. David Roberts, senior research scientist at Seqwater and a lead author on the study. “Our hope is this does not end with the research, but further inform management actions and future policy for conservation of lungfish and freshwater biodiversity overall.”

To read the published research study, “Tell us a story Granddad: Age and origin of an iconic Australian lungfish,” was published recently in Frontiers in Environmental Science: Freshwater Science:

Guests can come face-to-face with Australian lungfish in the Rivers gallery at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. The species serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts and promote freshwater biodiversity conservation efforts. Also, Shedd has sent additional samples from the lungfish currently at the aquarium to the researchers to apply this ageing method along with others from North American institutions building on this work.

VISUALS: High resolution visuals of Granddad at Shedd Aquarium are available for preview and download here:
Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium

About Australian lungfish

While most fish only have the ability to breathe underwater, Australian lungfish are among the few fish species that can breathe air. Lungfish breathe both underwater, through gills, and in the air with lungs. The animals have a single primitive lung as well as gills, allowing it to survive seasonal fluctuations in the level and quality of its shallow-water habitats by noisily gulping air at the surface every 30 to 60 minutes. Australian Lungfish has a long, heavy body with large scales.

Australian lungfish are usually olive-green to brown on the back and sides with some scattered dark blotches. It can be found in only a handful of still or slow flowing pools in river systems in southeastern Queensland, Australia. They tend to congregate where they camouflage best with their surroundings, like under logs and among dense aquatic vegetation.